It’s official: The Vikings will be without four starters Sunday. They could also be without wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, whose rollercoaster season encountered another twist today.
First things first, let’s start with the guys who are definitely not playing. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, safety Robert Blanton and left guard Charlie Johnson have all been officially ruled out after each missed all three days of practice this week.
Gerald Hodges will start again in place of Barr. Tom Johnson and rookie Shamar Stephen will split the snaps with Floyd out. Andrew Sendejo is expected to start at safety with Blanton out. And we can probably pencil in Vlad Ducasse at left guard because head coach Mike Zimmer has made it clear that rookie guard David Yankey will not be ready to see the field this season.
Now on to Patterson, who apparently injured his hamstring in practice today and therefore was a limited participant. The Vikings have officially listed him as questionable, a day after he said he had a “heart-to-heart talk” with Zimmer about something. He would not disclose the topic to us.
The injury report was released today after the locker room was closed to media. But Patterson appeared to be in good spirits after practice. He exited the showers with a boom box bumping rap music and casually chatted with a teammate as he got back into civilian clothes.
Patterson, of course, has played just four offensive snaps the past two weeks and fumbled on a kickoff return against the Jets. At the start of today’s practice, before the media got the boot, Patterson was practicing kickoffs with Jarius Wright, Marcus Sherels and the rest of the returners.
In this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we reached out once again to Josh Katzenstein, who covers the Lions for the Detroit News. the Wayzata native and University of Minnesota alumnus answered five questions about the second, and final, matchup between the Vikings and Lions this season at Ford Field on Sunday.
1. The Lions defense has maintained its top-two status in the NFL since the last time they faced the Vikings. What’s been the biggest reason for consistency this late in the season?
JK: As it was against the Vikings, the Lions’ defensive line has been the catalyst for the group’s success this year, and the line’s ability to shut down the run forces nearly every offense to be one-dimensional. Ndamukong Suh deserves most of the credit for the domination up front. Suh’s stats are solid for a defensive tackle — 5 1/2 sacks, 34 tackles, 12 for loss — but he creates so many opportunities for other players because offenses have no choice but to double team him. If they don’t, Suh can single-handedly ruin a play. The defense also has consistent contributions from the second and third levels, too, as linebacker DeAndre Levy and free safety Glover Quin are in the midst of Pro-Bowl-level seasons. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin also deserves plenty of credit as his ability to disguise blitzes and coverages makes things difficult for opponents.
2. How has defense end Ezekiel Ansah looked since recording a career-high 2.5 sacks against left tackle Matt Kalil?
JK: Ansah’s performance against the Vikings started what’s been a really strong past two months. Before the win in Minnesota, Ansah had just one sack and two tackles for loss the first five games. Including the Vikings game, he’s had 6 1/2 sacks and six tackles for loss in the past eight games. Ansah has taken advantage of many one-on-one opportunities and seems to improve every week because he’s still learning the game. He also flashes his athletic ability a few times per game by making plays downfield. On Sunday, his performance against Kalil should be a big determinant of how successful the pass rush can be.
3. Where has quarterback Matthew Stafford improved and regressed the most this season?
JK: This is a tough question because Stafford hasn’t really improved or regressed this season. He still struggles progressing through his reads and makes some errant throws each game, but he can create plenty of plays with his strong arm. His biggest improvement has been protecting the ball as he has just 10 interceptions after throwing 19 last year. The area in which he’s regressed the most is waiting too long for plays to develop, which has led to a career-high in sacks. The problem is the Lions don’t know exactly what they’ll get from Stafford week to week. He’s been excellent the past two games, completing better than 75 percent of passes against the Buccaneers and Bears. But before that, the Lions went two straight games without a touchdown. How he plays against a solid Vikings defense should provide a better idea of whether the last two games were an anomaly or legitimate.
4. Who will the Lions use at running back and what will the rotation look like?
Joique Bell has been the Lions’ best between-the-tackles running back all year, and he should continue to be the workhorse even with Reggie Bush back. Bell is coming off his best two games of the season with 91 yards against Chicago and 83 yards against Tampa Bay, and the Lions should continue to feature him as a runner. Bush will have opportunities as a receiver and will get some handoffs, too, but the Lions would be wise to give Theo Riddick opportunities. Riddick torched the Vikings for 75 receiving yards and is averaging 10.1 yards per reception compared to Bush’s 5.9. But Riddick didn’t play a snap last week, so the Lions will likely give Bush the first opportunity behind Bell.
5. What do the Lions need to do to win this game?
JK: The Lions defense should be able to limit the Vikings offense because it will eliminate the run game early, forcing Teddy Bridgewater to carry the team. And he doesn’t have the weapons to beat what’s been a solid Lions secondary for most of the year. The key for the Lions will be on offense, specifically up front. If the line can free Bell and give Stafford enough time to find Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, the Lions should win. Johnson’s return has given the offense a lift, and as long as the Lions win the turnover battle, they should keep pace in the playoff race.
By all accounts, former Wisconsin assistant Paul Chryst is on the verge of returning to the school as the head football coach, quickly filling a vacancy that opened earlier this week when two-year coach Gary Andersen bolted for Oregon State.
But before Barry Alvarez makes a hasty decision, we wanted to suggest one other candidate: Us.
We were browsing the official application for the Wisconsin head coaching job, and it sounds as though we could be — as Alvarez calls it — a good fit.
Here are some of the highlights:
Bachelor’s degree required. Boom! University of Minnesota, Class of 1999, five great years. Keeping it in the Big Ten.
Minimum of 5 years of successful collegiate football coaching experience preferred. Division I head coaching experience is also preferred.Division I head coaching experience is also preferred. Preferred, yes, but not required. That’s fair, and that doesn’t take us out of the running. It seems as though Alvarez and Wisconsin know that it’s not fair to exclude newbies. How can you become a college football coach if you’ve never had experience … but how can you get experience if you’ve never been a college football coach? Chicken and egg.
Other qualifications include the ability to work cooperatively with diverse groups and administrators, faculty, staff and students. If the Star Tribune newsroom hasn’t prepared us for this, it hasn’t prepared us for anything.
The successful applicant must be able to develop and implement innovative approaches and solutions; work well independently and in teams; and be flexible in accepting new responsibilities. We’re not sure if Alvarez read yesterday’s guest post, but this blog has been around for eight years now. Innovative? You bet. Do we work independently? Sure! Do we collaborate? Of course! New responsibilities? Always adding something new! And that’s just a fraction of what we do at work.
Conditions of Appointment:
This is a Limited appointment. Salary will be assigned within the appropriate range, commensurate with the candidate’s qualifications and experience. An excellent benefits packageis also included. Anticipated start date on or after December 17, 2014.
We’re totally flexible here, and we can assure you that the staff we would assemble — mostly RandBall commenters, lets be honest — won’t grouse about salaries. A full 60 percent would probably work for beer and chicken wings. One guy for sure would work solely for Replacements bootlegs. We have a vacation planned during national signing day, but we’d be willing to fly in for the news conference if necessary.
In any event, we hope Alvarez will give it some thought before rushing into anything with Chryst. He’s a fine candidate, but we’re not sure what he brings to the table that we don’t.